FLUSHING — A city worker for the Administration for Children's Services persuaded a former client with mental and developmental disabilities to house her pal for free — and threatened to have the client's kids taken away if she didn't go along with the plan, a city administrative judge said.
Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Judge John B. Spooner said in an Oct. 19 decision that Diana Lowe, a child protective specialist for ACS, should be fired from the agency for taking advantage of her ex-client.
ACS had accused Lowe at an administrative trial of inducing the client — who was only identified in the decision as Ebony, a mother of a 13-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl — to let a friend stay in her two-bedroom apartment in a NYCHA complex in Flushing in 2014.
The friend, who was only identified as Ms. Saunders in the decision, was supposed to pay $100 to $400 a month in exchange for the board, but Ebony never got the money, according to the decision. Instead Lowe would pocket it for herself, Spooner said.
"The facts suggest that [Lowe] heard about Ms. Saunders' need for housing and targeted Ebony as a vulnerable former client whom she could manipulate," Spooner wrote in his decision
"Such brazen chicanery suggests that [Lowe] is unfit to be a child protective specialist," he added.
Lowe had Ebony as a client in 2008, helping her obtain medical and dental assistance for her children and herself. Lowe also provided parenting guidance.
But after a few months Lowe had the two children placed in foster care when she found them with Ebony's mother, who was intoxicated. After the children were removed from the home, Lowe stopped working with Ebony.
In 2013 with the help of support services, Ebony got her children back and obtained the NYCHA apartment, according to the decision.
When Lowe learned of the living situation, she made the request to Ebony to house Ms. Saunders, Spooner said.
Ebony told city investigators that Lowe had promised that in exchange for the housing, Ms. Saunders would also cook, provide child care and help out around the apartment. Instead Ms. Saunders moved into one of the bedrooms and didn't help out at all, Spooner said in his decision.
A social services provider who was working with Ebony noticed that while the NYCHA apartment was sparsely furnished, Ms. Saunders' bedroom was decked out with an entertainment center with a television, picture frames and decorative objects on the shelves.
The provider also observed Ms. Saunders at one point cook a meal and take the entire pot of food into her bedroom and close the door, according to the decision. Ebony also told investigators that Ms. Saunders even ordered movies on her cable account without reimbursing her.
Ebony told the social services provider that, after several months of the living situation, she wanted Ms. Saunders to leave because she wanted the bedroom for her daughter. But Ebony told the provider that she didn't know how to confront Ms. Saunders.
Ebony also told the provider that Lowe said something would happen to her children if she kicked out Ms. Saunders, according to the decision.
"Lowe moved forward with her scheme by making largely false promises of childcare assistance and, even more reprehensibly, threatening Ebony with having her children taken away unless Ebony cooperated with the plan," Spooner wrote.
During her administrative trial, Lowe admitted knowing Ms. Saunders, but denied that she had arranged for her to live with Ebony.
Ebony also testified at the administrative trial on behalf of Lowe. She denied all the past statements she had made to city investigators.
However, the judge ruled that Ebony was lying at the trial because city investigators played a recording of her clearly making the past statements.
Lowe's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
ACS said in a statement that it terminated Lowe upon the OATH judge's review.
"It is our mission to provide optimal services to the children and families we serve," the agency said. "ACS holds its employees to the highest standards and does not condone any staffer abusing his or her relationship with a client.”